‘Going to have to destroy your plane, I’m afraid,’ Paul said next.
Didn’t know what he meant at first, as I thought I’d done a dead brilliant job of destroying it myself.
‘Won’t be able to use this field again,’ he said. ‘Pity. However –’
They’d shot a German sentry.
I really ought not to be writing this.
I don’t care. I’ll burn it later. Can’t think straight unless I write it.
They’d shot a German sentry. He had come along on his bicycle at the wrong moment, while they were laying out the flare path. He’d stood for a while watching and, as it turned out, taking notes – when they spotted him, he pedalled off as fast as he could go and they couldn’t chase him on foot or get to their own bicycles in time to catch up with him, so the English agent shot him. Just like that. They were pleased to have bagged a bicycle, but horrified that they had a body to dispose of.
The wrecked Lizzie, with living pilot, was a godsend. They would have had to destroy the plane anyway, to make it look like a crash rather than a planned landing. So they installed the dead patrolman in the pilot’s cockpit dressed in my ATA tunic and slacks, believe it or not. They had to slit the trousers right down the side seams to get them on the poor chap and even then couldn’t fasten them, he was so much wider than me. It all took a while and I didn’t help much, sitting quite dazed on the edge of the field wearing only vest and knickers under a borrowed jumper and overcoat. Mitraillette, who gave me her pullover, must have been freezing with only that frilly blouse under her coat. They also took my boots – I’m broken-hearted about my boots! But apart from my flight bag, all my British pilot’s gear had to be destroyed, helmet and parachute and all. Even my gas mask. Won’t miss that. All it ever did was take up space, dangling uselessly over my shoulder in its haversack like a wingless khaki albatross for the past four years. Don’t think I ever put it on except for drills.
Wish I’d taken that typist’s course now – could do with knowing shorthand. I have managed to fit this in 3 pages of my Pilot’s Notes in the titchiest print ever. It’s not a bad thing if it’s impossible to read.
Getting the plane ready to blow to blazes took a long time – and a lot of running around in the moonlight. Suppose they’re organised, but I hadn’t much clue what was going on and was neither useful nor necessary at this point. Was also developing a splitting headache, anxious about Julie, and wondering why they didn’t just set the dratted plane on fire and get it over with. Turns out they had quite a lot of equipment they wanted to get rid of, in addition to the damning corpse – half a dozen useless wireless sets they’d stripped for parts, plus a couple of obsolete ones nobody wanted any more – they sent someone to fetch them out of hiding, headed off on bicycles and returned with wheelbarrows. The barn they’d used to hide this stuff is where I am hiding now. The farmer who owns it threw in an old gramophone missing its horn and a broken typewriter in a cardboard suitcase, and a chick incubator full of bits of wire too short to connect to anything, to make it look like the plane had been carrying a full load of wireless sets! Mitraillette, the farmer’s elder daughter who was the only other girl there besides me, was very jolly about filling the plane with rubbish.
‘Onze radios!’ she kept muttering to herself and giggling. ‘Onze radios!’ Eleven wireless sets. It is a joke because it is so unlikely we would send eleven sets at once. Each set is linked to its operator, and each operator is equipped with distinct code and crystals and frequencies.
It will puzzle the Germans when they examine the wreckage.
The 500 pounds of Explosive 808 was dragged away on a horse-drawn wagon. It took time to find it all as a few of the boxes had fallen out of the damaged fuselage and the rear cockpit, which Julie had left open of course. She’d done a jolly good job of tying most of the cargo down. It was all done by moonlight because nobody dared use any lights – there is an early curfew so everybody was growing extremely nervous – I’d landed after 1.00 a.m. and it took about an hour to organise the destruction of the Lizzie.
Can’t say I feel entirely safe in the hands of the Resistance, but they are certainly resourceful. Once the radios and mock radios were piled up, and the dead German fixed in place, they simply opened the fuel tanks – of course the plane was nearly vertical and the fuel came pouring out – and used a bit of the explosive and detonating wire to light it. Easy peasy. It made a very jolly bonfire.
It must have been nearly 3 in the morning by the time we raced away from the field as Peter’s Lysander went up in flames. Had to ride in one of the wheelbarrows as I now had neither trousers nor shoes – they hid me under the same sacking they’d used to hide the radios, stinking of onion and cows. Then handed me up a series of makeshift ladders into a loft above another loft in the barn where I am now. It is a hidden space just below the peak of the roof. Can just manage to sit up if I wedge myself right below the peak. I’ve not started feeling claustrophobic yet, I suppose I do spend most of my life strapped into tiny cramped spaces. There is plenty of room to stretch out if I lie down. Pretend it’s the back of a Fox Moth – it’s just as cold. Most awkward for washing and things, all water and soiled pans have to be handed up and down the ladders.
Can’t think what else there is to tell about the crash. I’ve been clothed and fed and sheltered very generously considering they’ll all be shot if I’m discovered. I’m a huge risk – a danger to myself and everyone around me, probably the only shot-down Allied airwoman outside Russia. I’ve seen the leaflets. 10,000 francs reward for captured Allied flight crew or parachutists, ‘more under certain circumstances’. ‘Certain circumstances’ are bound to include a lass who can give the Luftwaffe a position fix on the RAF Moon Squadron.
And, this terrifies me and if I never tell anyone my real name perhaps no one will notice, but in addition to all that, I am Jewish. It is true that I went to a Church of England grammar school and our diet is not in the least bit kosher even in the holidays and Granddad is the only one of us who ever goes to synagogue. But I am still a Brodatt. I don’t think Hitler will let me off for being godless.
Best not think about it.
I didn’t think about anything for the first day and a half. Slept more than 24 hours, flat out, which is just as well because that was the day when the farm was simply crawling with German soldiers. The crash site was cordoned off for two days as they took photographs from every possible angle, including the air, and sifted through the wreckage. It’s still cordoned off, but apparently they have a hard time keeping out the usual vultures – small boys hunting for RAF souvenirs! A much more dangerous hobby in France than at home.
I am still unbelievably sore – not from the crash, but from holding the dratted plane in level flight all during that final hour. Every muscle on fire all the way up my arms, right from fingertips to shoulders and even across my back. Feel like I’ve been wrestling tigers. Don’t mind being able to rest really, I never quite feel fully rested even on my days off. I could sleep for a week.
Starting to nod again now. Light comes in through slats netted over with chicken wire to keep out pigeons. The platform of this loft space is halfway up the slats – if you were suspicious and counted them you would see more slats on the outside than on the inside. It’s a clever hiding place, but not foolproof. Before I fall asleep again I am going to construct some place to hide these stupid notes. If anyone reads this, court martial will be the least of my worries.
I wish Julie would turn up.
Spent all this afternoon (Thurs. 14 Oct) on the threshing floor of this barn learning to fire a Colt .32 revolver. What fun. Mitraillette and a few of her chums kept guard, Paul provided lessons and gun. The gun is part of his SOE kit, but he has got a bigger one, a Colt .38, from an arms drop and they all think I need one as I have nothing else to hide behind – no papers and very little French. As far as Paul’s concerned I’m just another SOE agent to be trained up quickly – not sure how this happened, but at any rate I am learning to be proficient in the SOE’s ‘Double Tap’ system. You fire twice, rapidly, each time you aim so you never have to take any prisoners. I am a decent shot. I think I would even find it quite a satisfying challenge if it weren’t for the noise – and Paul’s wandering hands. I remember him now, from that ferry flight in England. His hand on my thigh IN THE AIR. Ugh. Mitraillette says it is not just me, he does it to every woman under 40 who comes near enough for him to touch. Don’t know how Julie puts up with such stuff, encourages it even, as part of her work. Enjoys it more than I do, perhaps? No – I think she’s just bolder than me, in that as in everything.
Mitraillette, it turns out, is not the Resistance girl’s real name. She laughed at my stupidity for thinking it was – it is her code name. She has told me both, as it is awkward her father shouting her real name just below my louvred window when she’s supposed to come and feed the hens – it is a poultry farm. I won’t write down her real name. Mitraillette means submachine gun. It suits her.
Maman – her mother – is from Alsace and the children all speak German fluently. There is a younger sister they call ‘La Cadette’ – think it means ‘the little sister’! The brother, the eldest, is a Gestapo officer – an actual Frenchman who has been made an underling in the Ormaie Gestapo headquarters. The family, including Maman, despise the boy’s Nazi collaboration, but they fuss and cluck over him when he visits home. Apparently collaborators are so violently detested in Ormaie that anyone will shoot them, even ordinary citizens who have no connection to the Resistance, and he has to keep his head down. Etienne, I think he’s called, his real name. He does not know it, but he is quite safe. He is brilliant cover for his own family’s Resistance entanglement and there are orders out to keep him alive.
Mitraillette spent a good two hours chatting with me last night, up here in the loft in the dark. Her English is as rubbish as my French, but though we persist in thoroughly mangling both languages, we understand each other pretty well. We were watching the road while they shifted some of the explosive – she has a wooden bird whistle for warning the people below if she sees headlamps coming down the hill. Since I arrived the explosive has been not-very-safely hidden under bales of hay on the floor of the barn. This building is easily 300 years old, probably more, timber-framed wattle-and-daub plaster like Wythenshawe Hall, and if anyone should drop a match or cigarette the whole place would go up like Vesuvius. There’s no way I’d ever be able to get out. I try not to think about it.
I also try not to fret over Julie. Word is that the day before yesterday she met her first contact. I don’t know where or who, my information is all third-hand, but what a huge relief to know she landed safely! My understanding is that the reception committee who prepared the landing field is not connected to Julie’s prearranged contacts in Ormaie – more accurately they are all different members of the same circuit. It is meant to work like a relay race with Julie as the baton, but she has missed out the first leg of the race, the connection at this end – probably due to coming down in the wrong place in the dark.